Navigating the handover process with your clients
Communication is key
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If you’re not educating clients on this, you can’t blame them when you’re getting emails and phone calls saying, oh, this is happening, that’s happening.
A Typical Handover
In the work that I do with homeowners, I know that the handover period of a project can be a really dicey one. It can be a challenging one in terms of the assumptions and the confusion around what clients might expect to happen versus what builders want to happen. At that point, a builder’s often wanting to get out of the job and move on to the next one, and just making sure that they are getting paid.
And a client can be really nervous that they’re not going to get the finished home that they’re paying for, because that builder’s wanting to just get paid and leave.
How do you navigate the handover period with your clients? And how do you suggest builders do a better job of this so that their clients feel confident and comfortable that the builder’s managing what they need to in terms of their responsibilities, and everything goes much more smoothly?
This is a big one, there’s so much going on here. So builders tend to not even be thinking about handover. For them, it’s just something that happens. And yet, then get annoyed when the payments are not made on time.
The client wants to move in, they’ve booked a delivery track and there’s no money in their account. And all sorts of things go on there. But from the client’s point of view, as well, they’ve heard so many horror stories in our industry, that they want to hold that last payment, because they’re concerned that they don’t understand what a defect is. What if there is something wrong? Are they going to come back and fix it, once I’ve paid him, I won’t see him again.
For me now and being where we are, in the past, it would really frustrate me, but you can’t blame a client for having those types of thoughts. And I guess, a builder needs to be able to understand. A builder would have the same thoughts if he was getting a house built. Is it going to get finished? What’s the process? So I think, again, it comes back to a lot of communication.
The End Starts with Contract Signing
I think the earlier you start with communicating to your clients about what the end looks like, the better the whole process. It’s a business. You start with the end in mind. A job is no different. So starting very early on, like we do with the PAC process, we’re very involved, and there’s lots of things that come up in our design meetings and those types of things that we can touch on what will happen.
But for builders out there that aren’t doing the PAC process, and dealing with clients like this, these types of conversations can start from when you’re signing a building contract. And look, I’m really big on sitting with the client and taking whatever it takes. So we generally book two hours to sit down with our clients and run through signing a contract. So that’s your number one first opportunity to start talking about the end. The contract has so many clauses in there that talk about the defects period, and warranty periods and all those types of things.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
And then if you have a process in your business that deals with defects, start talking them through that as early as you can, so that when it does get to the end of the job, there’s no issues. Everyone knows what to expect.
And regular communication throughout the job.
Then as it gets closer and closer to the end, keep reiterating what your process is. And nine times out of 10 in our business, we get to the end, and these days, it’s other colleagues that we’re working with that are holding us up. The certifier doesn’t get the final certificate and all those types of things in time. So it’s back on us to make sure the process is smooth and flows well for everyone.
I think the thing is that as the builder understanding that you can actually craft that conversation with the client at the very start, because the client’s not going to be thinking about the end at that point. They’re going to be wanting you to get started on site so they can see all the things that they’ve been working on for ages actually start to happen. For them seeing construction start really signifies that their home’s real and that this is actually happening so that there’s an excitement and an urgency for them to see that.
But you actually taking the time to step them through what the end is going to look like. And then as you said, reinforcing that and reiterating it as you move through the process just alleviates so much drama at the end and also helps them feel much more assured and confident that you have it all in hand because, you know clients don’t necessarily understand what defects are or what their actual definition is, do they?
I think that’s a big one and especially in a climate where it’s very busy and we’ve got situations on some jobs where there’s items that haven’t been available and we’ve had to hand that house over with maybe some drawers not in a kitchen or a special order product not installed. So we would put that down as a defect.
Help Your Client Understand What A Defect Is
So having those conversations and communicating that with a client that this is what a defect is, this is the process, this is how we deal with it.
And look, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Ours are documented, but at the end of the day, it’s quite simple. We let all of our clients know that they’ll get a Practical Completion notice, which means the house is livable, not the final details finished, we do a walkthrough at handover, we both agree on a list of defects, we put that on a document, we both sign it.
Our standard practice is that we give them four weeks. These days it’s painting touch ups and a bit of silicone. But we promise that we will return within four weeks and finish defects. And so those types of defects are very different to warranty claims, service calls and all those types of things. So, again, it’s about builders getting up to speed with those types of things as well.
Do you have a process in place to deal with service calls? Do you do that? Or does the client organise that? In my business, if that’s a service call that’s required from our building period that’s on us to sort out. So it’s just a bit of having a bit of a process, keeping it simple, but keeping the client informed, so that when you get to the end of the job, there’s no surprises.
The Handover Experience – Making it Great
I think the danger is that a lot of builders can assume that a client will just know these things, or that they’ll just understand that this is how things need to go. And yet a client is really building up that anticipation of moving into this finished home they’ve been dreaming about for so long, and also very nervous that it’s going to be what they’re actually expecting and have paid for. And so I see that whole handover period, which should be something really exciting for the client, actually be a really negative experience, because a builder hasn’t helped shepherd them through that in a confident and comfortable way.
What do you really aim for with how that handover experience feels?
Exactly that. Clients in tears, happy to be in their home, no confrontation and just excitement. Give them a handover package. We avoid a lot of that too also by having a pre handover meeting. So again, it’s communication. It’s being open and honest.
But for most clients, it’s just really important that they know you’re going to come back and finish things. But the other really important thing is, we do it at our regular site meetings at every stage of the job, explaining to them what’s normal, and what’s a defect. So lightweight construction, you’re going to get movement, humidity, wet weather things are going to move around, you might get some little hairline cracks and things will close up over time. So if you’re not educating clients on this, you can’t blame them when you’re getting emails and phone calls saying oh, this is happening, that’s happening. You need to educate them along the way. A little bit of education throughout the job makes the handover process. You get paid on time and everybody’s happy.
What does your handover process look like currently? Are there processes you can put in place to start having those conversations earlier with your client about what to expect? If not, take some time to implement better practices now – your future self, and your future clients will thank you.
If you are looking for more tips on managing client expectations and you may want to check out our 5 Steps to Managing Your Clients video or this one on communication Communication Tips for Residential Builders